Arts in Corrections — a new perspective

California’s prison arts program from a manager’s point of view

I have always passed by certain scenes and been able to spot a “Kodak” moment. But I never realized how rewarding it would be for me to take up photography as a hobby.

I recently purchased a nice digital camera and started taking pictures of nature. It’s been incredible to discover art’s therapeutic value for myself. I am able to focus my attention on something recreational and creative, which takes me away from the daily grind of work and the hustle and bustle of my personal life. Photography allows me to capture the moment and enjoy the simple things — the things we often take for granted when we are too busy to pay attention.

When I think about the good that photography has done for me, it’s impossible not to draw connections to my work as Program Manager for California’s prison arts program, Arts in Corrections. Beyond the benefits I personally experience through the arts, I’m able to see the impact on those who are incarcerated.

For the unfamiliar, Arts in Corrections is a partnership between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the California Arts Council, geared toward rehabilitation and preparing incarcerated individuals for release through engagement with the arts. The California Arts Council administers the program by contracting with different organizations who work with teaching artists to provide classes at state correctional facilities.

Art in California’s prisons has a long history, with roots as far back as the 1940s. A model for the program was established in the ’80s. But Arts in Corrections — the official state-funded program as we know it today — began just five years ago, in 2013, resurrected after its demise during the Great Recession. In just that short time, we’ve come so far. What began as approximately $2.5 million spread over two years has grown to an annual $8 million in support from the state. Then, in June of last year, Arts in Corrections expanded to every adult state institution in California.

Those major accomplishments haven’t slowed our progress. Instead, we have begun sharpening our focus. We are diversifying our programming and filling in the gaps, offering classes that span the fields of performing, visual, media, and literary arts. We are listening to the voices of the institutions and the participants to see where their interests lie and what works best for them. Last week’s announcement of new contracts represents a step in our process to better tailor arts programming to each institution.

For organizations interested in becoming providers, we are planning to issue a request for proposals* again in the near future — stay tuned.

Before my time at the California Arts Council, I’d read about the benefits of the Arts in Corrections program as an employee of CDCR, but that doesn’t come close to the experiences I have had. It is great to have the opportunity to work in an impactful program.

Creative expression is positive resource for us all. I’m excited for what’s next.

For more information about California’s Arts in Corrections program, visit our newly launched website at www.artsincorrections.org.

Sign up here to stay informed of upcoming Arts in Corrections opportunities.


*A request for proposals (RFP) is a state competitive bidding process, different than the California Arts Council grant programs. A public forum is required for release of information. As such, the day of release cannot be communicated prior to publication and technical assistance is unavailable during the process.